David Bier – A bipartisan group of House members introduced the Farm Worker Modernization Act. The legislation will expand eligibility for the H-2A program to year-round industries, but it also contains several welcomed reforms that will bring down the costs of using the H-2A program, as I’ve detailed in my general review here. One set of reforms that will benefit current H-2A users in particular will change the government-established H-2A wage called the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR) that employers must pay to all H-2A workers and U.S. workers in “corresponding employment.”
The Department of Labor (DOL) calculates the AEWR using the Farm Labor Survey, a quarterly survey of farms conducted by the Department of Agriculture. It has several problems, including that the AEWR, unlike most immigration programs, relies on statewide estimates rather than local estimates and creates a single wage floor without regard to skill level. Ultimately, farmers are most frustrated by escalating labor expenses forced on them by the AEWR and high volatility in the AEWR estimates.